A novel by Kitty Burns Florey
Review by Meg Blackburn
a new novel about artists, dog-walkers, and loft-dwellers
in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is Kitty Burns Florey's "little
valentine to the neighborhood." Florey is an author
living just next door in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With SOLOS,
she illustrates a close-knit community where everybody knows
a little bit about each other and landlords, hipsters, dentists,
and even a few bad seeds become an extended surrogate family
for people who live alone with their pets.
Says Florey, "What impressed me when I moved to Williamsburg
10 years ago was the feeling of community. People looked
after each other. A lot of people didn't have much money
and everybody I knew was some kind of an artist. This is
a book about people who really hope for the best: for the
world, and for each other, and for their work."
The cross-section of Williamsburg residents in this book
walk their dogs in McCarren Park, eat Mexican food at Vera
Cruz, order take-out from Thai Cafe (and they wonder whether
PlanEat Thailand is just as good), and spend late nights
together reveling over cocktails, home-baked pies, a good
game of Scrabble, and the local gossip. Florey entertains
us from summer through Thanksgiving with their day-to-day,
simple yet fabulous lives.
While the eclectic atmosphere of the neighborhood plays
a big role in the novel, and local readers will delight
in the multitude of references to places they know, there's
a lot of purely imagined fiction packed into Florey's kaleidoscopic
vision. Readers far and near will find themselves intrigued
by SOLOS' alternately moody, complicated, joyous, and quirky
Free-spirited photographer Emily Lime lives in a loft in
the same old spice factory on North 3rd and Berry that first
enticed the author, Florey, to move from New Haven to Brooklyn.
With its industrial freight elevator and large windows gazing
across the river at the Manhattan skyline, Florey said the
loft was love at first sight, and she moved in on a whim.
SOLOS' main character Emily thinks the loft is a terrific
home as well, even though she dreams of someday moving into
the coveted penthouse upstairs.
While cinnamon dust sifts down from the creaky beams of
Emily's colorful loft, palindromes swirl from her inquisitive
mind. Each chapter starts with a palindrome, like "Was
it a Rat I Saw?" Besides that, the book is set in the
year 2002, in zip code 11211, and while Emily's dog is named
Otto, even her own name (Emily Lime) works out.
Meanwhile, Emily contemplates romance with her dog-walker,
whose own obsessions include the New York Times crossword
puzzle and the names in the New York City phone book. Coincidentally,
author Florey also calls upon the phone book, and a decades-old,
dog-eared copy of a "What to Name Your Baby" book,
for her characters' names.
Emily is falling in love with Marcus Mead, and though her
Tragedy Club book group fills her head with melodramatic
tales of unrequited love by the 19th century author Anthony
Trollope, she has not lost hope. In fact, she continues
to find comfort in the wordplay they both love.
"Marcus, she thinks. Marcus Mead. Dr. Maus came. Mama's
cured. .... She is sitting by the window watching the lights
come on across the river and munching the last Mallomar--dinner
of Mallomars and tomato juice is pretty good, she is telling
Later Marcus and Emily share a similarly gourmet meal of
Bloody Mary's and Halloween candy with a side dish of flirtation,
but that doesn't help the fact that Marcus has been paid
almost $10,000 to kill her. And suddenly it becomes clear
that Florey's cloistered world is far from a safe haven
of creative bliss and goodwill. It's suspenseful in a way
that keeps the plot rolling right along, and the characters
constantly in question.
"Murder for a Jar of Red Rum," you might call
it (Chapter 10). It turns out that Marcus and Emily are
practically stepmother and stepson, divorcee rejects of
their too-close-for-comfort father/husband/scumbag Hart,
who still haunts them both. What's worse, he has a crazy
plan up his sleeve, and it's making tensions rise. As the
mystery of SOLOS heats up to a surprising resolution and
a fairytale ending that is both weird and wonderful, the
neighborhood and its characters experience some unavoidable
Ravenous realtors wait for the last unrenovated loft spaces
to be vacated, artists struggle, and survival in a dog-walker's
paradise is more difficult each day. The wealthy periodontists
are buying art, raising its value to something worth killing
for, and even Emily and Marcus must move upward and onward.
But la vie boheme lives on, perhaps in the spring buds of
Emily Lime's antique roses.
Florey's book is a true pleasure to read, leading readers
into a world that delights in daydreams, good friends, and
comforts like a happy dog and a cup of hot tea on a fall
day. SOLOS feels real, maybe because it consists of characters
who could never be plastic. They are nerdy, bright, strange
After racing through this addictive and loveable book,
readers will be searching for other Florey material. She
suggests SOUVENIR OF COLD SPRINGS, her 2001 novel which
she says "also includes its share of young people trying
to find their way in the world." In addition, Florey
is working on a new book, about relationships, called IN
PARIS WITH A LOVER.
SOLOS is an ideal choice for book clubs, as it has an excellent
guide to discussion in the back of the book. At kittyburnsflorey.com
readers can peruse the opening pages of the novel along
with a biography of Florey and information about her other
work. SOLOS is published by Penguin and is available at
online at powells.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.